Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Roman Baths and a Magnificent Abbey

We spent the night at a Holiday Express just on the edge of Oxford and travelled through fairly hard rain to Bath, where we enjoyed touring the Roman baths at our own leisure using individual audio devices. I'm sure Roman ruins are not everyone's cup of tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed touring them and lingered in every area, listening to the audio and looking at all the placards and exhibits. I couldn't help but think of my son and wish he was there with me; in about 7th grade, he became interested in the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, and I'm sure he would have enjoyed this part of the weekend!

When I finally left the baths, my stomach was demanding sustenance, so I stopped in a little shop and bought a "small traditional pasty". It wasn't bad, but I didn't care for it. I think I may have had my last one of those!

Next door to the baths stands the magnificent Bath Abbey, and I visited it next. I do not possess the words to describe its stunning beauty, so I hope you'll check out some of these images: Bath Abbey    Completely covering the walls and the side aisle floors are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of memorials to those whose bodies are interred beneath the floor. It was quite sobering to see how young many of the people were when they died, but I noticed very few dates that indicated deaths of infants or babies. The markers I saw were all dated either the 1700's or early 1800's, and many of them including flowing tributes to the deceased. As a writer, I was intrigued by the wording of the tributes (not to mention the spelling of words), and I noticed numerous references to “piety” and “conjugal affection”. Many of the markers were written in Latin, and with a nod to Mrs. Malahy (my teacher for 3 years of high school Latin classes),  I was actually able to make out, at least in a general sense, those passages as well.

An announcement was made that services would begin in 30 minutes, and I took that to be a very polite way of saying we tourists needed to be heading elsewhere; with an hour to go before our departure time, I decided to have tea at  a lovely restaurant I had seen earlier (just across the courtyard from the Abbey and the baths). A large placard read “Tea, scone, clotted cream, and jam L4.50”  (I can’t find the symbol for British pounds on my laptop, so the cursive L will have to do), and I was eager to try clotted cream, so off I went.

Where do I begin? First, I have decided that when I return to the states, I am going to continue my new habit of stopping every afternoon to enjoy a cup of tea. But I digress. I was seated at a small table in front of a picture window looking out at the courtyard, with the Roman baths directly opposite me. My little pot of tea for 1, scone, clotted cream, and jam were brought to my table, and I prepared my first cup of tea, oblivious to the gastronomical delight that soon was to be mine.

I prepared my scone, still unsure of what clotted cream was -- I could see it, of course, but I had no idea what it would taste like. I took a small, tentative bite, and I think I may have actually said “oh, my” out loud. Nobody looked at me in surprise or disapproval, so I can’t be sure. I’m also not sure what clotted cream is; I do know it is absolutely delicious. As was the jam. And the tea and the scone itself. In short, I was in heaven, and I savored every single bite and sip as I sat by the fireplace and watched as heavy rain returned and pelted the courtyard and tourists milling around.

Finally, alas, my tea pot was empty and my scone eaten, and it was time to return to the meeting place for our bus ride back to Canterbury. It had been a absolutely beautiful weekend; the rain, the wind, the cooler temperatures didn't matter a bit. All that did was the opportunity to experience yet another bit of this wonderful country and its history.

A Beautiful University and a Historical Gathering Place

Saturday morning found me boarding yet another bus, this time with about 30 students, the Illinois mentor, and a tour guide -- all of us bound for Oxford to visit Oxford University. Our tour guide was wonderful. Throughout our journey, she shared interesting facts about the areas we were driving through (she did this both days of our excursion) that made the trip very interesting.

The highlight of the trip to Oxford was our 30-minute stop at the "services". I hesitate to compare the services to anything I've encountered in the states; the closest would be a rest area I stopped at on the Oklahoma Turnpike. The services we stopped at was more of a mini-mall, complete not with just one Starbucks, but with two, and a KFC, McDonalds, Burger King, electronics accessories store, cell phone store, and small grocery story (about four times the size of a Quick Shop).

As we neared Oxford, our tour guide began sharing interesting factoids about the university. For example, Oxford, like other British universities, was free for attendees until this past year, when a law requiring university students to pay 9,000 BP (British Pounds) per year in tuition went into effect. There is no such things as an athletic scholarship. While the #1 sport at Oxford is rowing, students have quite a range of sports to choose from, including tiddly-winks and turtle racing. Yes, you read that correctly. :)

While in the US, universities are "divided" into academic colleges (the College of Liberal Arts, for example), colleges at Oxford refer to a students "domicile". All students and all faculty members are associated with a specific college. A student's college is where he/she eats, sleeps, etc., and each college has its own library (in addition to the much-larger university library), bar, and chapel.

Academics are, according to our tour guide, handled differently at Oxford. Each student is assigned a tutor, and the pair meet once or twice weekly, often in a one-one meeting but sometimes with one or two other students. The tutor assigns to the student various lectures to attend, readings to be completed. The student writes papers and must be prepared to answer questions in the tutorial session, defend their answers, etc. Tutorials and classes are part of the individual college setting, but lectures and exams are the university's.

Oxford University is, to put it bluntly, huge. Situated in the middle of Oxford, it encompasses block after block of huge buildings and massive courtyards within each college's walls. It is without a doubt the most impressive institution I have ever seen, and I can only begin to imagine what it would be like to study there.

Oxford (the city) is also the home of The Eagle and Child, a pub famous for its connection to several famous writers. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and fellow writers met in a private lounge (the back room of the pub) called "the Rabbit Room".  They named themselves "The Inklings" and referred to the pub as "The Bird and Baby". The pub was crowded, but I was able to find a table in the corner of the Rabbit Room itself -- the very room where these great writers met every Monday or Tuesday for lunch! The barmaid told me that the room -- and the entire pub, for that matter -- is just as it was when the Inklings gathered there in the 1930's- early 1960's except for one thing. The Rabbit Room was made public in 1962, and with the loss of privacy, the writers moved their gatherings to a different pub (rumor has it that they moved to the Lamb and Flag).

If you're a Tolkien fan, you will probably find it interesting that it was in the Rabbit Room that he shared with his literary friends the first proofs of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (in the summer of 1950).

Having long been a fan of Tolkien and Lewis, it was thrilling to sit in The Rabbit Room -- maybe even at the same table they sat at even once. The sense of history, of tradition, that I'm finding everywhere I turn here in England is, for me at least, what is making this trip so wonderful.

And yes, I took a few minutes to write in my journal while I was in The Rabbit Room -- a writer reflecting on being in the place where unbelievably-talented writers once gathered.

A Gorgeous Seaside Village . . .

Originally, I had planned to write about the entire past weekend in one post, but I simply couldn't get the post short enough to make that feasible; my internal editor couldn't convince the writer in me to cut much of anything. Instead, I'll be sharing via 3 posts -- one for each day. I hope you enjoy them (and thank you for your patience as I try to figure out I get an error message when downloading pictures).

The past three days found me in three places that were very different and also extremely interesting, each in their own way.

On Friday, I took a day trip to Whitstable  (Whitstable Kent), a charming fishing village on the North Sea. Before I left for England, several people told me this village, about a 20-minute bus ride north of Canterbury was a “must-visit”, so off I went. I arrived about midmorning, decided to have a cup of tea before exploring, and found a cute shop on the high street.

I ordered my tea and found a table in a side room, overlooking the street; at a larger table sat 6 or  7 women -- obviously good friends --  chattering away. Several of them glanced my way and smiled, and when the waitress delivered my tea and I thanked her, one of them turned toward me and asked, "You're from the states?" (My nationality exposed in 2 words “Thank you” lol)  I explained that I was, and she invited me to join them. Two of the ladies had lived in both New York and California in the 1960's and 70's, and the daughter of one of them is now married and lives in New York. We had a wonderful time chatting about the United States, Whitstable, children, and dogs, and then they invited me to join them every Friday morning. When I explained that our group's excursions are every Friday, several of them shared their phone numbers and email addresses so we could get together for tea on another day.

One of the ladies shared with me that she lives in a house that dates back to the 1400's with her Newfoundland, Humphrey, and she invited me to visit her at her home on a day convenient for me. She had an appointment to keep, but another two of the ladies took me on a very interesting tour of the waterfront, pointing out things I would have missed and sharing stories about Whitstable. It was so very nice to spend some time with ladies about my own age and to simply relax and chat away. What struck me most was that, aside from the setting and their accents, our conversation was no different than any I would have with friends back home.  We are so alike, despite our differences.

After we went our separate ways, I meandered in and out of the charming shops on the high street of Whitstable, wandering back to the waterfront again to sit on a bench and enjoy the beautiful view.  Reluctant to leave such a beautiful place, I finally boarded the bus again and travelled to Herne Bay for a brief stop at a wool shop before continuing on home to Canterbury.

I will definitely be visiting Whitstable again while I'm here in Canterbury; I don't know that I will find a more charming village or more delightful new friends.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Prince and the Pea

I am not stiff-necked, and I don't mind apologizing when I have wronged someone. So here you go, Rich. I apologize for inwardly doubting you.

Let me explain. Rich is one of my colleagues (from another of my college's four campuses), and he served as the Canterbury Mentor last semester. When he graciously met me for coffee/tea just a few days after his return from England this past December to share with me hints and tips for serving as this semester's mentor, he mentioned that the mattresses in the flat I would be staying in are very firm, as in hard.

Rich shared that he tried putting the comforters from all 3 beds on top of the mattress, but that didn't help. He also carried the mattresses from the other 2 bedrooms and put them on top of the mattress in "his" room -- that didn't work, either. Visions of Carol Burnett in the tv production of "The Princess and the Pea" came to mind as he was talking, and I had to laugh at the image of Rich, a modern-day Prince and the Pea, perched atop 3 mattress and 3 comforters, tossing and turning all night long.

Although I didn't admit this to Rich at the time, I was a bit skeptical of his tale. I mean, how hard can a mattress be? The first time I sat down on the mattress, I found out for myself. Rich, I apologize for doubting you! The mattresses in this flat (and, if my Illinois counterpart's experience is any indication, *all* the flats in this complex) are the hardest created in the history of mattress manufacturing.

Every night for just over 2 weeks, I worked on lecture notes, read, knit, or watched television until my eyes would barely stay open (literally) and then head to bed, hoping that this would be the night that I would fall asleep with some semblance of ease. Every night for just over 2 weeks, as soon as I stretched out on the torture device known as a mattress, my eyes would pop open and I would be wide awake much of the night -- a contemporary Princess with a pea. But not last night!

While strolling around Oxford Saturday, I had an idea, and last night I gave it a try. I took the 4 pillows from one of the spare beds and placed them, sideways and side by side, on top of the bottom of the 2 comforters I have been using as a modified mattress pad. Starting with where my feet would hit and moving upward, I could cover exactly the length of my feet to my neck. I put the 2nd comforter over the pillows and then placed 2 of the pillows from my bed where my head would go. Hopeful that this would work, I slipped into bed, and covered up with the 3rd comforter.

It was heavenly! It was blissful! I was almost reluctant to go to sleep because I hated to miss feeling the comfort of my new "mattress"!  (I know all those exclamation marks are a bit annoying, but divulge me a bit here. My joy is almost boundless.)  When I woke up this morning after a full, uninterrupted 8 hours' sleep, the pillows hadn't shifted a bit.

I am no longer "royalty", but I've got a fantastic mattress!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Introducing the ????? Ten . . . "My" Canterbury Group

As I explained in an earlier post (or 2 -- I tend to repeat myself), I am here in Canterbury as the mentor to 10 students who come from either the community college at which I teach or the community college in a neighbouring city. I made a conscious decision before I left the states that I was not going to write about these students.

To write about them, even using aliases (I have to laugh at the image of these nice kids needing an alias), is to me an invasion of their privacy. I think of the offspring of celebrities like Bill Cosby or Raymond ("Everybody Loves Raymond") who have served as fodder for their parent's television shows, comedy routines, & books, and I wonder how they feel about incidences -- often embarrassing ones -- from their lives being made public. Let's be honest. How many of us would be applauding wildly and shouting from the audience "That's me he's talking about" after their dad told a packed auditorium about our shopping trip for our first bra?

And so, I had decided my students would be off-limits other than for general comments like "the students and I had tea today with Queen Elizabeth and got along smashingly well!" However, something happened last night that has caused me to temporarily suspend that decision.

First, though, I must explain the "????? Ten" part of this post's title. I've noticed in previous mentors' blog posts that their groups came up with a group name; one group, for example, was "the fabulous five" (sorry, Paul, Ringo, et al). My group has not yet named themselves, and of course a nickname can't be forced. So far now, I think of them as simply "my 10".

Back to last night.

At our Wednesday dinner (we plan to have dinner together every Wednesday after class -- I think I may have said that before as well) last week, one of the group mentioned that another young lady would be celebrating her birthday last night, and we decided to replace this week's Wednesday dinner with a Thursday birthday dinner at a local pub, The Black Griffin.

This past Sunday, I considered sending a text or facebook message to everyone except the birthday girl, asking the other group members if they wanted me to pick up a card and/or a gift. But I didn't. On Monday, I thought about it again, and then again on Tuesday. The teacher in me, the me who is used to directing the course of a class session and of a semester, was ready to step in and direct the course of the birthday dinner. The mom in me, the part of me that wants every occasion to be perfect and for everyone to have a nice time and feel loved & cared for, wanted to join forces with the teacher.

The mentor in me told the teacher and the mom to be not what is natural or comfortable for me, but what is best for the students. And that is, I believe, to stand back and let them experience this opportunity in its entirety within safe, reasonable parameters and to be there to support them as needed, to treat them as adults, and to respect that they are perfectly capable of handling this situation just as it needed to be handled.

And here is the result of the teacher and the mom listening to the mentor.

I arrived at the pub before the rest of the group. The students arrived in 2 groups, from the 2 general directions they live from the pub. The first was a group of 4 or 5, and one of them was carrying a large gift bag. Evidently, 2 of the girls bought the gift bag and a gift and others had also included something.  A card and pen were produced so everyone could sign. Eventually, the rest of the 2nd group arrived, and conversation centered around the menu and ordering.

As we waited for the food to arrive, the conversation swirled around me and included me, and even as I took part in one conversation or another, I couldn't help but be aware of how these 10 young adults who (except for one pair of friends) had never interacted with each other until less than 2 weeks ago are already a cohesive group. Camaraderie was apparent; they even have their own group "inside jokes"!

After our food arrived, it had been enjoyed, and the empty plates taken away, one of the young men began singing "Happy Birthday", and the rest of us joined in, followed by a lifting of tea, water, and adult-beverage glasses in a salute to our birthday girl. Her face shone with delight, and when someone handed her the gift bag and card, she was visibly touched.

I was touched, too, as she opened her gifts. Two of the girls had obviously noticed that the birthday girl often sketches on a small notepad; they bought her a nice, thick sketch pad. Two or three of the other students bought chocolates because, as one girl proclaimed, "Every girl needs chocolate!" Also in the bag were a pair of super-soft gloves and a matching scarf -- both coordinate beautifully with the recipient's coat.

I left shortly thereafter; it was time for the "old lady" to exit the scene and let the students have time together without me. I walked down the dimly-lit high street with a very warm, contented heart. Left to their own devices, these young adults had done what came naturally to them. And it was exactly the right thing to do.

Perhaps I should call them the "Terrific Ten", but that sounds so cliched to me. Besides, when the time is right -- if it ever is -- they will name themselves. And you know what? It will be exactly the right name!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Living with Less . . . and Living Well

44 - 9 = 35.

That equation indicates the number of pounds -- 35 -- of stuff  (other than my laptop and ipad) I brought with me to England for a 3-month stay. The airline allows one checked bag of no more than 50 pounds; to play it safe, and because I don't like to cut things too close, I set a personal limit of 45 pounds. My suitcase weighs 8 lbs 13 oz, so I allowed myself 35 pounds of clothing and personal items.

I relished the idea of travelling as light as possible; I travelled with one checked bag and one carry-on tote with my laptop, ipad, and paperwork necessary for our travel and arrival. Even my purse was stowed -- stuffed with socks and a pair of pajamas -- in my suitcase. As I watched some of my students struggle to navigate check-in and, later, the route from luggage pick-up to our awaiting taxis, with 2 large pieces of luggage, a large carry-on, and an almost-as-large "purse", I felt even better about my decision to take only the bare necessities on this 3-month trip.

I had to bring an electrical converter kit that I swear weighs 10 lbs (I'm going to weigh it when I get home), another adaptor, and some materials for classes, leaving me with probably 25 pounds allotted for personal items.

So what did I bring? Here's the breakdown:

3 pair of walking shoes -- a pair of Merrill waterproof & insulated walking boots (for rainy days and snow), a pair of Merrill waterproof hiking shoes that resemble athletic shoes (for forts/castles and walking trails), and a pair of Naot walking shoes that look fairly dressy (for class, walking around towns, etc). I wore the Naots and packed the other 2 pair.

3 pair of black pants -- 1 pair is somewhat heavy (I wore those), the other 2 are mid-weight; I had also ordered 2 pair of light-weight black pants but they arrived after I left, so my daughter is bringing them when she comes to visit for Spring Break (I'll send the heavy pants back with her)

1 black, mid-weight skirt

10 tops -- 4 are either pull-over or turtleneck sweaters (wore 1 of the 4); 2 are mid-weight tops with long sleeves; and another 4 mid-weight have 3/4 length sleeves

1 pair of sweats for lounging around the flat and 1 pair of pajamas

Not counting undergarments (including 6 pair of wool-blend socks of varying weights) and a coat, I am counting on those 19 items being enough for 3 months of living. I brought the bare minimum of make-up and no electrical appliances, so I purchased a cheap, but very functional hair dryer and basic toiletries at the Pound Store (think Dollar Store) upon my arrival.

Similarly, my accommodations here are somewhat spartan by American standards. While I'm staying in a 3-bedroom, 2-bath student flat (designed for 3 students), I only use 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, and a 15' x 17' (not counting the L-shaped cabinetry) living/dining room/kitchen. I have 4 plates, saucers, cups, bowls, and glasses and 1 skillet and 2 pots. The bedroom holds one double bed, a built-in desk/shelving unit, and one plastic chair. The living/dining area is equipped with one faux-leather covered love seat, a small end table, a dining room table, and 2 plastic chairs. All of the furniture looks like it came from Ikea -- modern and sleek. There is no separate laundry room; the washer/dryer combination is located under the kitchen counter.

There are no decorations, other than a lace valance purchased by the previous mentor from my college; because the large window over the kitchen street looks directly out on the somewhat-busy street my flat is located on, it's nice to be able to open the blinds and still have some sense of privacy (thank you, Rich).

My life here is very simple. Every morning I fix a breakfast of fruit and a cup of tea. I go about my business of attending classes or a meeting, preparing for my own lectures, etc., with a late-morning tea break -- oh, how I love that cup of green tea! My tea break also provides time to reflect and write in my journal and to check email and facebook. Lunch consists of either a salad or a tuna salad sandwich, with a piece of fruit for dessert. If I need a break from working and have no classes or meetings after lunch, I venture out for an afternoon walk. I typically find an opportunity to have another cup of tea and perhaps a muffin or scone late in the afternoon. Wandering through Canterbury, people-watching, and leisurely going in and out of shops at will is something I will sorely miss when I leave in 3 months.

(Now that the students and I are settled, I plan to dedicate one day a week to walks (hikes) and day trips to various cities/towns/villages in Kent and East Suffix. Of course, I also hope to take a few longer trips -- overnight perhaps -- to London and beyond.)

In the evening, I fix dinner; so far, I've been fixing a quick, light meal of fresh fish and veggies which I lightly saute' in a touch of garlic-infused extra-virgin olive oil, and I enjoy a piece or 2 of fruit for dessert. I spend my evenings knitting, reading, chatting on fb with family and friends back home, preparing for class, and watching television (I've fallen in love with British television, by the way!). Before I know it, the clock reads 23:30 or 00:00, and I turn in for the night.

Truth be told, other than my family, friends, and my pets, I have absolutely everything I need and want.

For more than a few months before I left for England, I'd been decluttering -- donating and selling and tossing items I felt I no longer needed -- and thinking I had done a fairly good job of paring down to the essential items I need and love. In the past 10 days, I've discovered that what I thought I need & want and what I actually need & want are poles apart.

I know I will learn many things during my stay in England; so far, I think I'm off to a very good start!

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Castle, a Fort, and the Largest 2nd-hand Bookstore in England

We ventured out on our first group excursion on Friday with a trip to Rochester, Kent, a town (formerly, a city, but more on that later) about 3o miles this side of London (northwest of Canterbury, southeast of London).

A little background information about these excursions. Almost every Friday, my group of 10 students from Missouri, the group of 9 or so from Illinois and their mentor (Todd), another group from Illinois (slightly different program and no mentor), and I will go on a day trip to a historical/cultural site. For this first trip, we were led by Steve, a CCCU part-time lecturer. I don't plan to spend much time writing about the actual sites we visit, as you can find out anything I can share (and much more) online; I will focus more on the other aspects of our outings. 

When I walked out of the flat at 8:00 Friday, I was greeted by the coldest temperatures we've had since our arrival (probably in the low 40's), a steady rain, and a fairly brisk wind. I'm not a cold-weather fan, and I detest being out in the wind and the rain, but I was so excited about the excursion that I barely noticed any of it! Fortunately, we left the worst of the rain and cold behind us as we motored away from Canterbury; throughout the day the weather vacillated between cool & sunny and cooler & either drizzle or overcast skies.

The countryside we drove through was hilly & green and reminded me of southeast Missouri in the Spring or Summer. We sped past several fields filled with rows of grape vines and even more fields filled with rows of some sort of short crop, but I didn't see a single structure that looked like the barns back home.

We rounded a curve, and below us was the River Medway with Rochester nestled along the hills on the other side. It's an absolutely beautiful view! As we drove through Rochester to our first stop, I tried to take in everything I could of the homes and businesses crowded closely to the streets, but there was simply too much to see.

We toured both Rochester Castle ( and Fort Amherst ( The Rochester Castle tour was unguided; fortunately, there were small placards explaining what we were looking at and sketches of what that particular area/room would have looked like back when it was in use.

DSC00216Fort Rochester

The tour at Fort Amherst was guided, and our guide was absolutely delightful -- informative, patient, etc.; her love for the area, for the fort and its history, was evident throughout the 90-minute tour. I do want to share one little snippet with you.

At the beginning of the tour, our guide explained that the fort was built in the early t0 mid-1700's in response to the 1667 Dutch invasion in which the Royal Charles,  the flagship of the fleet, was captured (and 13 other ships destroyed). With great chagrin, our guide explained that this is the only time in British Naval history that a British flagship has been captured and, she added dolefully, the hull of the Royal Charles is still on display in an Amsterdam museum.  One of the students asked why Great Britain just doesn't ask the Dutch to return it. The guide sadly replied, "They won't, you know. They captured it and to this day consider it quite a feather in their cap." Her dismay at this "loss of face", if you will, was so very evident.

After touring the castle, Steve took 8 or 9 students and I to visit Baggins Book Bazaar, the largest 2nd-hand bookstore in England. I could have stayed and browsed in Baggins' for days and spent quite a sum of money, I'm sure, but my stomach was beginning to grumble, so after wandering around the extremely-well organized stacks for 10 or 15 minutes, I joined Steve, and we headed up the high street (the name given to the main street of towns, no matter what their actual name is) to find a pub. We happened on a place that looked promising and went in; Todd and 6 students were already there, so we joined them.

The pub was charming, and the food was excellent. I intend to try new things and to eat as many local dishes as I can when eating out, so I ordered a bacon, brie, and cranberry sandwich (even though I don't care for cranberry sauce) and tea. The sandwich was delicious (so were the side dishes of coleslaw, chips, and salad)! The bacon wasn't cut into strips that wrinkle when cooked; it was more one large, flat piece.

After lunch, I stopped in a few shops on my way back to our meeting-up place. In a charity shop (more on those in a later post), I got a little lesson on villages, towns, and cities. From what I had already gathered, distinction as a city is given to communities which have a cathedral; a town not only doesn't have a cathedral, but also is (I think) smaller than a city, and villages are smaller than towns. I mentioned to the lady working in a charity shop (more on those in a later post) that Rochester was a "lovely city" (Rochester Cathedral is located directly across the street from the castle), and she thanked me. She then said, "Well, unfortunately, we aren't actually a city any longer. Someone [she pursed her lips and looked quite disapproving] forgot to file the necessary paperwork this past year, you see, and we've lost our status as a city." (By the way, try to "hear" the dialogue with a British accent -- it makes it much better! :))  I made a few of what I hope were appropriately-commiserating noises and asked if "someone" couldn't just file this year, and she responded, with a sniff, "Well, one would hope so, my dear." Then she smiled brightly and asked me about the states.

Another little shop in particular was delightful. The large window display of "Hometown" was like something out of the British edition of a cottage-type home decor magazine I pick up at Barnes and Noble from time to time (the name escapes me right now -- sorry). Beautiful fabrics and notions -- colors and patterns reminiscent of Cath Kidstone (one of my favorite designers and British) and a garden in the Spring. I glanced at my cell, saw I had 7 minutes to spare, and zipped in. Oh, my! If only I could put a cot in the storeroom, I could live in that shop. There were absolutely beautiful wool blankets, various sewing and needlepoint caddies, and more things than I could absorb in one short visit. The proprietress was very gracious and shared with me the names of a few "wool" (yarn) shops to visit -- one in London, the other two in Tenterden and Whitstable (both in Kent).

I'm definitely planning a day trip back to Rochester to explore at a more leisurely pace. Whitstable was already on my "must visit" list, but Tenterden was a new name to me; needless to say, it's been added to my "must visit" list as well!

At the end of the day, as I watched the scenery fly by on our trip home to Canterbury, I reflected on the experiences of the day. So much to absorb . . . so much yet to come!

I had hoped to include pictures in this post but for some reason get error messages from WordPress when I follow the instructions given. Hopefully, I'll get this figured out soon and will add pictures as soon as I can. Thank you for your patience!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

An Archbishop and Oh, What a Choir!

I've been in Canterbury for just over a week now -- eight busy, and sometimes bewildering, days. It's impossible (for me, at least) to share everything I'd like to say about the past four or five of those days in one blog entry, so I'll break it down into two entries!

Weather is such a topic of discussion anywhere a person lives or goes that I'll address that first. Simply put, the weather here has not {knock on wood} been what I was led to expect. I wake every morning to damp or wet streets, but other than one day that it rained off and on, the days have been a combination of overcast and downright sunny. I'm not sure what the temperatures have been, but the days are cool but quite comfortable if I'm wearing a jacket; most of the time, though, it's enough to just have the it on -- it doesn't need to be zipped up or anything. As cold-natured as I am, that should tell you something!

Wednesday was a turning point for me -- I finally felt like I had settled into "England time". A morning of meetings and an afternoon of classes put me on what for me is a normal schedule. I visited a class I will be lecturing in/to next week to get a feel for the class; a very-engaging "lecturer" spoke for 2 hours on the issue of gender in the U.S. As a non-feminist and an American, it was interesting to hear her perspective on the issue.

Later that afternoon and after what will be a weekly pre-excursion meeting with the students and student ambassadors from CCCU's International Studies Office, I sat in on the first session of the "Divided by a Common Language" lecture/seminar. This course is one all of my students and I (along with a group from Illinois and their mentor) will attend every week. From 3-4, Martin (students typically call the lecturers and professors by their 1st name) lectures on some aspect of the similarities/differences between Great Britian/England and "the states". The students then break into their already-established 3 groups for seminar (discussion). One group will be facilitated by Martin; one by Todd, my counterpart from an Illinois college; and one by myself.

I'll share more later about the British university setting; I don't feel I've seen enough yet to give more than a very, very superficial account, and that would be unfair. For now, I will say that I have been very impressed with what I've learned and observed.

On Thursday, I was treated to tea and another tour of the CCCU campus by Doug, the academic go-to guy for the international studies program. Previous students from Missouri had commented on what a great guy Doug is and how helpful he is -- they were absolutely correct. Doug is engaged to a young lady who lives in Illinois; they plan/hope to live in the Chicago area after they are married, but I'm trying to sell him on St. Louis! Why choose the home of the Cubs, when you could live in the hometown of the St. Louis Cardinals! :)

Please, no angry comments or emails. Just some good-natured teasing from the fan of one (11-time World Series champs) baseball team to fans of another.

Thursday evening found me doing something I've been looking forward to since I first began researching and preparing for my stay in Canterbury. After a muffin and tea at a teashop across the road, I arrived at the Cathedral for Evensong (the 5:30 daily service that is conducted in song). Because I arrived early, I was able to sit in the Quire (the area between the Corona and the Nave) while the boys choir practiced (visitors/worshipers sit in seats about 40' away from the pews while the boys rehearse so as not to distract them). Typically, the boys' choir accompanies 12 adult male choristers, but on Thursdays the boys sing without the adults.

You can read more about the Cathedral, its history, the choir, etc. at the Cathedral website --

I was looking around the unbelievably impressive Cathedral when I heard a slight rustle from the far end of the Quire; I looked up and saw that a man (in full black robes) was entering, followed by 2 lines of boys (about 20 total, ranging in age from 8-13) dressed in purple robes with white, high, ruffled collars from a garment underneath. They looked incredibly young, fresh-faced, and so innocent and cute, and I smiled, thinking of children's choirs I've heard at countless Christmas programs and Sunday services.

The organist (high, high above us and barely visible through an archway) began playing, and the boys' voices filled the Cathedral. Their voices rose and spread and filled the immense Cathedral with the clearest, most pure sound I have ever heard. I lack the words to describe the experience, try as I might. Every line or so, the Master of Cathedral Choristers would stop the boys and provide soft-spoken instruction, the boys would try again -- and maybe again. After about 30 minutes, the boys arose and followed the Master out the way they had come in -- same direction, same rows.

As soon as they left, those of us waiting moved to the padded pews for the actual service. The pews face each other, and one section on both sides are reserved for the choristers; I was sitting in the first row, first seat across the aisle from where one group of the boys would be sitting. A woman sat next to me, and we quietly greeted each other. She saw that I did not have a program and offered to share with me. She introduced herself (Penepole, but she goes by Peps), shared with me that her son is one of the choristers (he would be sitting almost directly across from us), and told me a little about the choir, the boys' schedule, etc. It was very interesting.

At 5:30 on the dot, organ music rang out, and at the far entrance (above the nave) the Master and choristers (now just in white robes with the high ruffled collar) processed in and sat down. Behind them came the processional of 5 or 6 clergy (I'm not sure of their official names); at the back of the line, carrying a large shepherd's staff, was the man I immediately recognised as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby. People stirred, Peps and at least one other person behind me actually gasped, and I glanced over. Peps immediately whispered, "It's the Archbishop!" I found out later that because of his position (he is head of the entire Anglican Church, the Church of England), the Archbishop does not actually reside in his beautiful home on the Cathedral grounds; instead, he lives in London and travels extensively, returning to Canterbury primarily for major holidays such as Easter and Christmas and occasionally just on random visits.

My apologies for any incorrect terminology, etc. I'm recording this as best I remember it and from what I've learned from my own research.

Evensong was an incredibly, incredibly moving experience. The cantor (?) and choristers sang the liturgy with a few inclusions of congregational response (spoken) and Scripture readings.

When I had first entered the Cathedral, I asked 2 or 3 of the "pastors" (wearing black robes) for directions to Evensong (the Cathedral is huge and the lighting somewhat dim, and I certainly didn't know my way around). Each gentleman was extremely helpful, and two of them invited me to the communion service afterward and told me that, as a Christian, I was welcome to partake in Holy Communion.

Peps led me from the Quire to show me the site of Beckett's martyrdom, and then showed me the small chapel (one of many, I believe) about 3 feet from the site. Peps referred to it as the Chapel of Martyrs and explained that the service would be held there. She left for her Thursday-evening visit with her son (the choristers board together), and I sat down in the small, ancient chapel. Within a few moments, a lady joined me. I explained that I was a visitor and wasn't sure of how Holy Communion was administered; she introduced herself and explained things to me before the pastors arrived. The service was quite short -- no sermon, just the Communion liturgy -- and only 5 people and I were in attendance. After the service, Judy introduced me to a husband & wife from America; the wife is a pastor, and the husband is a theology lecturer at CCCU.

I walked back to my flat through the dark and quiet streets of Canterbury, thinking over the events of the past 90 or so minutes. The taking of Holy Communion, the amazingly beautiful voices of the young choristers, and the warmth and helpfulness of the pastors and women I met . . . what an indescribable evening!

Monday, January 13, 2014

We're Here!

The past week has certainly been an interesting one! After a 2-day delay (due to the foot of snow we received or issues with the airport in Chicago, I'm not sure); "my" students and I finally departed St. Louis for our 3-month stay in Canterbury England.

Because we sat on the tarmac at Lambert Airport in St. Louis for an extra 40 or so minutes while repairs were made to one of the de-icing trucks, we had only about 20 min to spare before our connecting flight, so as soon as we debarked the first plane we began walking as quickly as possible to our gate. As we got closer, one of the students said, "Hey, they just announced last call for our flight!", and as one, we took off running. Perhaps you're envisioning those old television commercials in which businessmen run gazelle-like through airports, leaping gracefully over luggage and small children. To picture that would be a mistake. :) Carry-on luggage flopping about wildly, we rounded the corner to the gate, where one of two ladies at the boarding gate immediately asked us if we were the group going to London and then informed us that they were holding the flight for us. She also told us we had been upgraded to business class! They hurriedly checked our paperwork and scrawled some initials & checkmarks on it before practically pushing us onto the plane. And then, we were in the air and on our way to England.

Oh, my! I'd never flown anything but coach, and I had no idea what I was missing! Much larger seats that fold into all kinds of positions (or flat); individual electronic tablets with a library of books, movies, tv shows, games, etc., and a pair of very nice noise-reducing headphones; a plush and extremely soft blanket and nice fluff pillow; fantastic, multi-course meals (even breakfast); and all the drinks -- even champagne (for those 21 and over) -- we wanted. All at no extra charge! As I shared with friends on facebook, "How do you get the girl back in coach after she's experienced business class?"

Ultimately, we arrived at Heathrow, found our drivers, and loaded into the vans that would take us on an 80 or so-minute ride to Canterbury. I settled into the cab and tried to make out something of the scenery flying by, but all I could see was a few odd shapes here and there in the jet black night.

In the 4 days since then, we've attended 2 induction (orientation) meetings and been taken on walking tours of both the university campus and part of the "historic" part of Canterbury. The students have settled in with their homestay families, and I've settled into my flat.

I spent almost the entire day Saturday exploring Canterbury. I knew from what I'd read in preparation for this trip that the area inside the ancient wall (to be explained later) where all the shops, museums, etc., and Canterbury Cathedral are located would be crowded with tourists on weekends, so I didn't take my camera. Instead, I simply wandered up and down streets, in and out of shops. I people-watched, bought one or two necessities, and walked. And walked. And walked. In fact, when I checked my pedometer at the end of the day, I found I'd walked 16,752 steps aka (for me) 7.1 miles!

After a morning of meetings, I had the afternoon free today to purchase a few necessary odds and ends. I walk everywhere I go, and so far today, I've logged 11,694 steps aka 4.7 miles. I've eaten several meals, enjoyed a couple of Starbucks chai tea lattes (at a very discounted rate as they are sold in the campus coffee shop around the corner from my flat), and talked to quite a few people.

Thoughts so far:

1. Canterbury is amazingly beautiful! Even when the sky is a flat, dark gray and a light drizzle is falling, it is beautiful. By the way, it's only rained (actually misted/drizzled) once since we arrived.

2. The people are unfailingly helpful.

3. When walking down the street, very little eye contact is made, no smiles or casual "hello" exchanged as you meet and pass by someone unless it is initiated by the American/me. When I smile and (sometimes) say a quick greeting, the person I'm "meeting" looks started, but then they always smile back and respond politely (see #4).

4. I assume they are saying something polite. I'm having a wee bit (I love that very-British expression, along with others I've heard so far) of trouble understanding when people speak. They speak fast, and while they speak English, the British accent and the different word meanings have proven to be more daunting than I expected. Of course, my hearing problems exacerbate the problem, so I focus as best I can (and smile encouragingly). Everyone has been very patient, though.

5. No matter what is being said, it sounds elegantly dignified and oh so proper. I actually heard a young man say a rather vulgar expression this morning, and it sounded like something you would say to your grandmother at the Sunday dinner table!

6. Food doesn't taste quite the same here as it does at home; even the drinks at Starbucks don't taste like their counterpart in the U.S.  As a general rule, food and drinks have been more bland yet still pretty good. The fish & chips are, without question, fantastic!

There's more, but in the short time it's taken me to write this, I've gone from wide awake to dead on my feet. Unfortunately, I've been dealing with jet lag, but hopefully I'll soon be back on an even keel and able to stay alert later than 20:00 (8 p.m) and, more importantly, able to fall asleep when I go to bed rather than lay wide awake until 2 or 3 in the morning.

So please excuse me if this post is unclear; I know it's somewhat rambling and disorganized. Quite honestly, so are my thoughts and impressions right now. I know, though, that in the days to come, that will change. I'll post a few pictures and share some experiences, and I hope you'll join me in the weeks and months ahead.